Out of the sand pits, into the compost
Mayer Materials turns to Harvest Quest compost inoculants to find the path to perfect compost
Heather and David Mayer were running a healthy sand pit business on their 44-acre Texas property just northwest of Fort Worth when they had an epiphany. “We knew the day would come when we would no longer sell sand,” Heather explains. “But, maybe there was a different option to just backfilling and moving on. We realized there were other possibilities for our land.” And while that day still has not yet come, the results of their diversification are already well developed.
Mayer Materials was founded in 2006, functioning strictly as a sand pit for cushion and fill sand, and it would be several years later before they came to their new direction. But with the benefit of plentiful real estate, Heather says they recognized the growing need for recycling sites and saw an opportunity that would work for them. “Someone approached us with the idea of recycling gypsum, so that was the first material we began to bring in. It is ideal for the clays of North Central Texas.”
From there it was a simple evolution of their recycling efforts from gypsum to organic composting, and manure and brush were the first source materials they collected. Located near one of the largest annual stock shows and rodeos in the country, and in the heart of Cutting Horse Country, there is a steady supply of manure and bedding. Soon after, the Mayers also started processing other organics to include pre-packaged, off-spec food and beverage materials. “David recognized that no one in our area was doing this,” credits Heather. “He is the one who took us to the next level in composting and recycling.” Each of these materials are perfect candidates for compost fractions, but all of them combined did not produce a pretty product. “Our soil tested great, but had a gray tinge when it dried, and we had a 90 day turnaround. Customers equate dark, rich looking soil with high nutrients, so that’s what we aimed to deliver.”
“If you call composting ‘throwing in everything, but the kitchen sink’ into a windrow and seeing what you get, then yes, we were composting!” Heather jokes. “It was definitely not a consistent process, and the outcome reflected that as well. Last year we began tweaking our mixes and limiting some of the inputs, and we were pleased with the results.”
Their path to perfect compost began with the realization that turning with a loader was very inefficient and even more ineffective. So they attended the United States Composting Council conference in Austin in 2015 to research turners. That set into motion a series of events that led to a meeting with Martin Morgan from Ecoverse, who introduced them to the benefits of Harvest Quest compost inoculants in the compost and the complimentary side effects using their method. “Martin explained to us that by using these additives and following their process, we could cut our compost curing time in half, eliminate most of the odor and create a far superior product. I have to say I was quite skeptical,” Heather admits.
But the more she researched Harvest Quest, the more she began to realize just how much of a difference it could make. “I have a friend who is a chemist and a fellow composter and I asked her about it, and she said ‘Yea, it’s the real deal. No one can figure out how, but it really works.’” Heather says. “We have a friend who owns a greenhouse and we had him look into it and he came back with the same conclusion. We went to the City of Denton a little north of here who were just starting their own trial run with Harvest Quest to visit their operation. And after meeting Darren Midlane from Harvest Quest and hearing the superior quality of the Harvest Quest compost, we were ready to try it.”
As effective a solution as Harvest Quest is, Heather admits she initially misunderstood how involved Darren and Martin would be in ensuring the success of her compost using Harvest Quest. “My first thought was that Harvest Quest was ‘fool-proof’ composting, but that isn’t the case,” she explains. “Darren came out and did a detailed analysis of all our inputs, helped us formulate a menu of specific ratios for each and has been following up to be sure we are getting the expected final outcomes. And indeed we have!”
Each of their recipes has been specifically formulated to work most effectively with the prescribed bacterial inoculants provided by Harvest Quest. Ratios have been developed that each emphasize each potential source ingredient. A few additional mixes are still being tweaked. Once the sources are mixed, windrowed, and turned following the state’s prescribed procedures, the Harvest Quest inoculant is added to each end of the windrow, and within 24 hours will completely permeate the entire row.
By maximizing bacterial activity, temperatures are elevated and sustained, increasing the curing speed and eliminating most odor production. Finished compost is realized within 45 days after initial turning phase. “Regardless of our initial recipe, we end up with the same, high-quality end product,” explains Heather. “The specialization in ratio and inoculant ensures a complete breakdown of all the organic material. In our final screening, we have a high yield with very few overs.”
The dramatic evolution of the Mayer Materials compost has been noticed by the marketplace as well, and Heather says they are really looking forward to their first full year of composting with the Harvest Quest inoculants and methodology. “We’re ready to get going! We sell to wholesale and retail outfits, landscapers, contractors, construction sites, and the public.” They sell their compost in bulk, and will be bagging product for retail customers this month. “Being small, we knew we wanted a high quality product in order to compete in the bagging market. With Harvest Quest we have a boost of natural nutrients made available to plants so they can thrive and defend themselves. Darren has shown us how using Harvest Quest can improve the soil structure. It’s exactly what we wanted. ”
With such high-quality compost at their disposal, their topsoil product has been overhauled as well. “Our soil now is so much darker, and richer,” Heather describes. “It just looks pretty and it smells so earthy. And that’s really what this is all about — learning that soil is not just a medium that you stick plants in, but rather a living and breathing ecosystem. Once you understand that, and learn how to improve that ecosystem, you can make some incredible things happen.”
Heather is still amazed at how significant a difference Harvest Quest has made for their composting operation, and she credits their communication and support as the real value gained from the investment. “We may not be the smartest people around, but we know how to surround ourselves with those who are,” she chuckles. “I can’t say enough about Darren and Martin. It’s great to have someone on your team with expertise and knowledge. We’ve never felt alone in this process.”
They may not have run out of sand yet, but if or when that day does eventually come, the Mayers have built a strong composting business that will easily outlast their inventory of aggregate.